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The Big Answer


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People And Plans

a book by Herbert J. Gans

(our site's book review)

He oddly de-emphasizes the effects of architectural styles and functionality on human behavior, saying that although such things should be humanized—designed for the people who use them—architects should not try to influence how or if people relate to neighbors, etc.

The problem with this idea is that when developments are designed, the actual people who are to occupy them are not known, so architects have to aim at either the most likely characteristics of owners-to-be or the most desirable ones from the point of view of the architects’ vision of a healthy society, or both. Written in 1991, this book should have realized that there were many serious social problems being aggravated by the fact that many developers were still stuck in the Second Wave, designing houses as if they were all to be occupied by nuclear families with two kids, even though less than 10 percent of families fit that category.

Developers are designing houses as if they were all to be occupied by nuclear families with two kids!
Developers are designing houses as if they were all to be occupied by nuclear families with two kids!

This is why builders Gans discusses were trying to be more thoughtful and modern in their planning ideas. They wanted to build in ways that would suit the needs of actual owners, not wrongly imagined nuclear-family-based owners. They also wanted to deal with urban sprawl and isolation issues, in which the breakdown of community was threatening not just civility but democracy itself, including in small cities and larger urban environments.

Urban sprawl and isolation are issues in which the breakdown of community is threatening not just civility but democracy
Urban sprawl and isolation are issues in which the breakdown of community is threatening not just civility but democracy

He correctly perceives the need for diversity in cities and areas, but also the need for homogeneity in blocks and sometimes neighborhoods. He looks at the assumptions of street life that some city planners hold as a universal verity, in spite of the fact that while working-class neighborhoods have street life, middle-class neighborhoods don’t, because they socialize inside their homes. And middle-class blocks don’t want street life, anymore than working-class blocks want to do without it. And no one wishes to have to move to fill their housing needs.

The book recognizes the need for social experiments in which we can compare the response of people to new opportunities. “If social science is to serve the ends of policy . . . it must place less emphasis on the study of existing conditions and more on the experimentation with improved conditions.” (The MCs are optimally improved environments applying all the best knowledge humanity has ever acquired, actualized not by Gans’ liberal social engineering but by a method that will please all: individual/family choice, individual/family initiative, individual/family responsibility. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


Gans says that rising joblessness can lead to fascist movements of the right or left
Gans says that rising joblessness can lead to fascist movements of the right or left

The book also points out that rising joblessness can lead to fascist movements of the right or left. And the dangerousness of walling off the underclass from the overclass is discussed, implying its similarity to many existing countries with elites ruling a poor population. “Overclass” is the author’s term for these elites. True democracy is incompatible with such developments, which lead to oligarchy. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.) It requires active communities and civic responsibilities like the community renewal trend promotes.